The Baron Watches Seven "World War Three" Movies (SPOILERS Possible!)

This thread led me to think about all of the various movies I've seen over the years which revolved around "World War Three" happening and the aftermath thereof. While I've seen more than seven, seven is the number that I have currently available on disk or tape, so seven is the number I shall re-watch and describe here for your edification or amusement.

As an aside, I realize that this isn't a "Timeline" as such, but since I have this swell space here that the Skipper has provided, I figured that I ought to make some use of it. I'll be watching in release order, so that's sort of like a timeline, in a way. If you don't buy that, then think of this space as "The Baron's Timelines and Things", or some such.

 

Anyway, I begin my review of "World War Three" films in typical Baronial fashion by discussing a film that isn't about "World War Three" at all, but is in fact about World War Two.  This picture differs from the vast majority of World War Two movies in that it was made in 1936, three years before World War Two started. It's important to remember that in the 1930's many people imagined that a second world war would destroy civilization completely. In essence, back before the Second World War, "World War Two" was the "World War Three" of its day.

 

Things To Come (1936) was written by H.G. Wells, based on his book, which I confess to never having read. It was directed by William Cameron Menzies.

 

The film begins on Christmas 1940 in Everytown in England. I believe that's somewhere in Anyshire. We got a juxtaposition of images of impending Christmas with impending war. No name is given to the potential enemy, but I dare say that in 1936, it would have been fairly clear to the Great British public (Evening, all!) who it was meant to be.

 

We begin with John Cabal (Raymond Massey, all serious and portentous) sitting around with his buddies, whose general attitude seems to be "It'll never happen, and besides, it'll do us some good, and besides, we can't stop it." The jollity of the evening is interrupted by a surprise bombing raid, and the war is on.

The depiction of the war itself is interesting. While it has some elements in common with the Second World War as it actually happened, it is much more like the sort of 'roided-up World War One that alot of people of the time seem to have expected, with biplanes and gas attacks and such.

Some of the SFX are quite good for the time. There's a scene of a massive air raid on the town that is quite harrowing to watch, even now.  In many ways, it's like watching a nuclear attack without the nukes.

There's one scene where Cabal shoots down an enemy pilot who's gassing the town, then chivalrously lands his own plane to pull the downed pilot from the wreckage. Whilst Cabal pauses to pontificate on the horrors of war, a little girl and the enemy gas approach, in that order. The enemy matches Cabal's chivalry by giving his gasmask to the little girl. Cabal leaves him his sidearm before fleeing.  The pilot muses on the irony of  the fact that he may have killed the little girl's family, and then died to save her, before blowing his brains out, off-camera.

The war goes on for decades. By 1964, the enemy has begun to use a bio-weapon called "The Wandering Sickness", whose mute victims leave their sickbeds to wander about, mindlessly infecting others. In a way, they could be the prototypes of Romero's living dead!  

By 1966, Everytown is a ruin. It wasn't a nuclear war, but this could be seen as the protoype of any number of "post-nuclear" films, as we see people living primitive lives in the remnants of the old civilization. I am particularly amused by the depiction of automobiles being used as carriages, horseless no longer. The Boss (well-played by Ralph Richardson as a blustering, swaggering bully) has arisen, dealing with the Wandering Sick by shooting them on sight.

By 1970, the Boss is in complete control, and is attempting to create an air force for himself, to pursue a war against the Hill People. Cabal returns in a new plane, representing "Wings Over the World", a cadre of benevolent techno-fascists who are going around "cleaning up" the various local warlords, using advanced aircraft and the Orwellian-sounding "Gas of Peace". Cabal confronts the Boss, who locks him up. The Boss' Wife (Margaretta Scott, all regal and intelligent) quizzes Cabal about the wider world. In the end, Cabal's buddies come in giant planes of the sort that never existed in real life but were all over the fiction of the time and rescue him.The Boss dies ranting and shooting futilely,and his world dies with him.

We then get an interlude of seemingly endless scenes of re-building, and titanic machines that make me wish for a Jack Kirby adaptation of this film. Eventually we see Everytown in 2036, which has become the sort of effete, antiseptic, science fictional, socialist Utopia that took the place of the New Jerusalem for a certain type of bourgeois lefty thinker once upon a time, as if they had abandoned Christianity for a faith whose creed could be summed up as "There is no God but Progress, and Flash Gordon is Its prophet." We also get to see the "futuristic" fashions. Why did everyone assume that we'd stop wearing pants in the future back then?

We encounter Theotocopoulos* (Cedric Hardwicke, doing demagoguery quite well), who seems to be against Progress the way cranky old people are against young people being noisy late at night, and just generally seems to be against anyone doing anything even remotely interesting, ever. At the moment, he is especially against the Space Gun, a sort of massive cannon which could be considered a descendant of Verne's Columbiad.

We also encounter Oswald Cabal (Massey again, with hair coloring), great-grandson of John, and chairman of the local Soviet or whatever it is they have.  He's a big booster for space travel, and his daughter has volunteered to be part of the couple that gets launched around the Moon. Theotocopoulos stirs up a mob to attack the space gun, so Cabal #2 hurries the space launch. Theotocopoulos rants at them. The gist of his argument seems to be "Can't humanity ever just relax and sit quietly?" He also says "We shall hate you more if you succeed than if you fail!"

 

 The launch goes off as planned. We end with Cabal #2 giving a millennial speech about Progress: "All the Universe or Nothing? Which shall it be?", which sounds suspiciously similar to the old Nazi slogan of "Weltmacht oder Niedergang", which I'm told meant something like "World domination or ruin".

 

Overall: A very good movie, with generally good acting and good effects for the time.  Wells' politics  shine through a fair bit, and the picture does tend to get melodramatic and portentous and full of Big Ideas.  The war and the aftermath are quite good and obviously inspired countless imitators. The last segment with future Utopia is a bit weak and less convincing, but still not bad.  Definitely worth a look if you get a chance.

 

*Note that the troublemaker has a "foreign" sounding name.

 

 

Next: 1955, and the Return of the Mutant Boyfriend!

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The Baron said:

After some extremely non-brutal basic training (which still somehow contrives to kill John's cousin Jack, who is a bit of a Milquetoast)

Soon after getting out of the Army I saw a sequence on a TV show or TV movie with a character who apparently had been drafted. He was so saintly that when he was supposed to throw a live hand grenade he saw a bunny. Instead of throwing it forward he threw it straight up in the air and killed himself (fortunately no one else, which is hard to believe). The intent of the show was to present this character as too good for this world when they actually presented him as too stupid for this world.

That's another one that's new to me, and interesting to learn about, Baron. Could you tell in what country the film was originally set? I was wondering if it's supposed to be a Communist or non-Communist one.

 

I thought the 1960 film was going to be Roger Corman's Last Woman on Earth. But it turns out it's not a nuclear war aftermath film. In it three people, two men and a woman, are left alive when most of the world's population is killed by a temporary disappearance of oxygen. What caused the disaster is left open. It's reportedly in the public domain and can be found online.

Gas-s-s (1971), from which I've only seen a couple of minutes, depicts a world in which all people older than 25 have been killed by a leak of American nerve gas.

There's a review of The Last War here which says it was Toho's answer to a Toei film, The Final War, from the previous year.

 

This page on the Statue of Liberty in science fiction lists earlier appearances of the statue as "victim and/or contemplator of a ruined New York" than The Torch, which I mentioned on page one.

The country in Atomic War Bride isn't specified.  Was Yugoslavia on the outs with the Soviets by then? It could have been kept unspecified deliberately, so it could reflect either superpower.

Tito fell out with Stalin but kept Yugoslavia Communist. Wikipedia tells me after the death of Stalin there was a reconciliation between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union but Yugoslavia became one of the founder members of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. I can't say I understand in what ways Yugoslavia differed from other Communist countries.

Funny, I just realized that the only end of the world pictures I ever saw growing up were all made in America.

Me, too.  I didn't see any of these others until much later.

If a UFO was going to land anywhere to take over the planet, kidnap women or scientist or women scientist or turn people into zombie slaves, well there was no where else to go but the US :)

Or Britain, if you're watching Doctor Who.

If you are an alien who would you rather face, a Time Lord or a lone US scientist and his plucky girl friend :)

PowerBook Pete, the Mad Mod said:

Or Britain, if you're watching Doctor Who.

I like a challenge.

I watched Devil Girl From Mars (UK 1954) recently, in which the Martian arrival lands in Scotland and means to forcibly obtain the services of Earth men. I was surprised to learn it was based on a stage play.

I've really enjoyed this thread, Baron.

I've been looking at old newspapers. Formerly they sometimes ran serials, including novels. H.G. Wells's scenario for Things to Come was serialised in The Western Mail, a weekly paper from Western Australia. It appeared in six instalments, 30 Apr. 1936 - 04 Jun. 1936.

This post displaced the thread Secret Origins (SPOILERS) from the home page.

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